I am not sure that my dad ever planned to ‘replace’ the little Falmouth Quay Punt that he lost, when it sunk of the Kent coast on his way to Hamble. But our sailing boat he then converted from a ship’s life boat did bear a striking resemblance to the pretty thing. My dad salvaged the life boat from a ship called Trooper and we retained that name. She had, in layman’s terms a point at both ends and not particularly attractive; so my ever resourceful father removed one end and replaced it with a transom this nautical term means a ‘wooden beam across’ and in this case the back end. Hey presto!! After many more hours of bending, screwing, riveting and sewing of sails she became a 30ft sailing yacht.
Once sea worthy we spent summer weekends and holidays sailing the creeks and rivers of the Solent like water gypsies. It was a surprisingly social event, those Saturday afternoons in the channel from the Hamble to Calshot Spit towards Cowes was a steady stream of familiar boats. We, children would wave heartily to other crews while the adults would make knowing nods and begin to baton down the hatches.
When we reached the spit we would decide east or west and catch the wind … us girls would look forward to Saturday night supper in Yarmouth (IOW), Buckler’s Hard, Portsmouth Harbour, Ryde or Cowes. We were never disappointed, although the course chosen depended on the wind and tide there was always a conflict between a challenge and the easy ride. I suppose as we got more experienced at sailing the decision became more of a choice and less ‘spontaneous’
We did have a couple of mishaps that might have ended in tragedy. Once we thought we had lost my little sister over the side. She was about 4 years old and still inclined to have an afternoon nap. One day the water was a particularly choppy and we were all ’hands on deck’ and it was not until we settled to a smooth tack that we noticed the little girl was missing. We hunted high and low but she was nowhere; so in a panic we turned back to search the waters, we were rarely without life jackets so there was a little hope that we might find her by looking for her bright yellow lifejacket … then from a locker below the aft deck where the ropes are stowed a little bleary eyed girl appeared … soon we were back on course.
We tried to sail to France once, when an unexpected storm blew up. As we neared Cherbourg the waves were so high the lifeboats were not able to get near us. So we had to ride the storm, thanks to my dad’s expertise we survived. This episode is really worth time so I will write more about this soon.